Stand Up Gifts: A Wrap Challenge

Last year, my sister sent me two pairs of plastic gloves, two plastic face shields and a travel-sized container of Lysol wipes – was this a gag gift? My daughter and I most definitely laughed when we opened all this, wrapped, mind you, in lovely holiday paper. Truth was, my sister was concerned that I was taking my daughter out to a restaurant for Christmas dinner. That was 2020.

A year later, the pandemic is calming down and we are all getting invited to proper holiday gatherings again: office parties, family reunions, dances and neighborhood open houses. And with all these parties come the traditions of secret Santa, white elephant swaps, and of course gag gifts.  

The right gag gift is often harder to find than a sincere gift; it works best if it pokes fun with some respect, some love, with recognition of the recipient’s talents. It also works best if the recipient has a sense of humor. Who better to deliver a gag gift to than a comedian?

 Doreen Collins with her pretty and pink FUD. 

What the FUD? 

Local comedian Doreen Collins is the first (and only) female inducted into the RI Comedy Hall of Fame. One year a friend gave her a FUD (that’s short for a female urination device). She laughed, saying, “if I’m gonna hang with the big boys, why not pee like one?!” You go girl! One brand of FUD is even named, “Stand-up.”

Brad Pierce

The Great Fortune Cookie Crapshoot

Of course, a gag gift doesn’t have to have a specific intention. It can just be surprising and odd. One year, when he was about 19, local comedian Brad Pierce got just that. His friends chipped in and bought him a toilet. And then his friends bought him a huge box of fortune cookies. Suddenly flush with good fortunes, he kept that toilet in his bedroom at his parent’s house and filled it with the cookies, like a giant cookie jar or candy dish. Eventually, when Brad moved out to get married, the toilet was repurposed and used as the chair from which he co-hosted a public access show. There is a gag gift that just kept on giving! 

No Shit?

No story on gag gifts would be complete without noting the anonymous gag gift. That would be when the recipient is intended, but the giver is in hiding. 

Several years ago, while local comedian Joanna Rapoza was living in Connecticut, a local paper ran an advertisement for a comedy open mic she was starting. Her old email was provided as contact information, and it had the word “moose” in it. The first night the open mic was to occur, an anonymous (annonymoose?) gift was left for her at the venue – matching earrings and a necklace made of petrified moose poop! 

So if you’re looking for the perfect gag gift for a friend or co-worker, try to think about who that person really is and what they can endure as humor. It can make the difference between a shitty gift, and a gift that’s the shit.

Some places to buy gag gifts:

Spencer Gifts is everybody’s favorite spot for fake dog poo, and that set of matching brass balls. Visit at the Providence Place Mall, 1 Providence Place, PVD.

Imagine Gift Store in Warren is locally owned. It’s a small mall with an entire department of joke gifts. 5 Miller St, Warren.

Frog and Toad is known for its compact but robust selection of jokes and sarcasm, from magnets to aprons. 795 Hope St, PVD.

Pleasant Surprise, where venerated OOP used to be, has a pleasant selection of jokes, jabs and local references for your humor-supportive friends and family. 297 Thayer St, PVD.

Aging Disgracefully: Comedy with Charlie Hall and Doreen Collins

Comedians know that you need the right audience for your jokes and material. And Charlie Hall and Doreen Collins (founder and star of the Ocean State Follies) didn’t need to look far. Their new show, Aging Disgracefully is all about becoming decrepit, with a sense of humor. 

Charlie Hall and Doreen Collins – Dependable Comedians

Long time Rhode Islanders know that Charlie Hall is the stand-up comedian and cartoon artist who founded the Ocean State Follies almost 30 years ago. He met Doreen Collins, a professional singer and actress from New York City, when she became a cast member. Political satire, song and dance, comedy and Rhode Island folklore gave the cabaret show its multi-decade popular run. But decades, demographics, and Covid, changed everything. 

“About 3 years ago, I started to do stand-up again, but felt like I was out of step with the younger crowds and other comics,” Hall said. “So I decided to do a whole show about getting old, and decided to do it with gal pal, and former Follie member Doreen Collins. We have jokes and parodies, like the Ocean State Follies, but also a touching moment or two.”

Now, the duo call themselves “seasoned citizens,” and target their comedy in elegant and finely elderly form. The jokes range from viagra, to forgetfulness, from irritated digestive systems to CVS receipts long enough to measure a football field. According to infoplease.com, about 25% of the state is over the age of 55. So, the Ocean State is filled with an energetic and healthy, fun loving, albeit aging, population. 

Follies fans are still faithful and ready for a good time. Proof of that: Charlie and Doreen are selling out shows weeks and months in advance. Their brilliant innovation was to find the right venues, and the right time of the day to perform. Entertaining sleepy folks wouldn’t be a winner, nor would attempting to engage the crowd in a poorly lit bar. And late night dive bars aren’t walker friendly.  Performance spots now include Chan’s in Woonsocket, Chelo’s in Warwick, George’s in Galilee, The Lobster Pot in Bristol and Carriage Inn in Wickford.

“We don’t ensure that Ensure vodka drinks will be available at our shows,” Charlie laughs, “but we do more matinees than evenings, so that our friends and fans can order early bird suppers.” 

“And no one wants to drive late, because we’re all losing our eyesight,” Doreen chimes in. “Booking matinees works for us too!” 

As Charlie proudly says, “If they’re over the hill, they are with us!” 

For full information about upcoming shows, check Motif’s listing or go directly to the website agingdisgracefully.net

Are I Funny?: Start Up Laughing

Looking for great comedy in Rhode Island? Want to try your hand at standup? Check out the Comedy Open Mic Tuesdays at Askew in Providence.

This open mic is specifically designed to support and nurture budding local comics, who begin to gather, chat, laugh together, either inside at the bar or on the sidewalk outside.

You’ll see many of the same faces from week to week. These hard-working comics are tremendously talented and successful performers. “Newbies” also feel welcome, as the more seasoned comedians give feedback and great advice, and encourage all to participate and enjoy the process of honing the craft. 

Owner Windsong Hadley says she started the comedy night at Firehouse 13 about three years ago with a “splattered with blood” sign on the door. The open mic moved to Alchemy, before settling in at Askew, a homey club atmosphere with couches, a pool table, a main stage and friendly staff. 

The true heart of this club is that it is indeed a practice space. Windsong says she wants to see the comics develop the marketing skills and presentation skills necessary for succeeding in the business and that she “aims to promote the development of the craft and encourage the comics to realize it isn’t just a hobby to be funny.” 

Everyone feels at home at Askew, welcomed and accepted, and gets the unique opportunity to work on jokes before taking on a bigger crowd, whether it be in Boston or New York City or wherever the pursuit takes them. Windsong also helps comics learn what she describes as “the ethics of comedy”. 

“If Chris Rock wants to throw the mic on the floor, that’s fine,” she laughs, “but we discourage performance deviance like that.” While she doesn’t actually censor anyone, she or one of her hosts introduces every open mic reminding the crowd of a welcoming LGBTQ acceptance policy. She uses what she calls a “No 2 G” rule — ie: if a word used in a joke has “two n’s”, it is inappropriate and not acceptable. 

In addition to the weekly open mic, Askew offers showcases and themed shows for the most experienced in the area. Recently, in partnership with Last in Line Comedy, she featured an LGBTQ Rainbow Show that was positive, celebratory and widely attended. Look for Askew’s next showcase on October 23, featuring John Valby, also known as Dr. Dirty, a comic musician known for his obscene song parodies. How lucky are we in Little Rhody to have this gem, a living room for building careers and getting some good laughs simultaneously!

Comedy Open Mic at Askew, Tue 7pm (Doors open at 6, sign up sheet is out at 6:30), 150 Chestnut St, Providence, RI